Every Tuesday evening in a room located at Princeton United Methodist Church a small group of people, mostly college students from the nearby Princeton University meet for a healthy dose of community and fellowship. Some attend out of curiosity; some come to be heard by others including God; while others come for both. They all come as farmers—farmers who not only need to cultivate their academic and social lives but also their spiritual ones, no matter what shape they take.
The Wesley Foundation at Princeton, led by Chaplain Erik “Skitch” Matson, welcomes those who are seeking what Jesus called the abundant life. The United Methodist group values questions, not conformity and welcomes all genders, sexual orientations, races, ethnicities, socioeconomic backgrounds, denominations and relationships with faith from the lifelong Christian to the questioning critic.
“What I really love about this group is the sense of Christian community and how it matched my own values,” said Paige Allen, who is a junior studying English at Princeton and a student intern for the group. “I’m a queer person of faith. We value questions, not authority.”
Although the health crisis has shifted how they connect, Matson is keeping the conversation going through Zoom and a regular string of phone calls between members. He also said that due to the success of the first two Zoom calls, they planned to move forward with having a panel discussion on conflict on April 21. Matson said he continues to have regular online meetings with Allen, his intern, to plan the group’s strategy moving forward.
“We still have to have that sense of community,” he said, adding that some students needed to stay on campus due to financial burdens, homelessness or mental health concerns. “We’re scrambling to meet in some way with these students. This crisis is just making us rethink things.”
Allen, who is contemplating studying for a master’s degree in England once she graduates, added that there are a lot of different denominations represented in the group, which creates rich conversation when they take a deep dive into one book of the Bible each week. They also pray, share personal stories, discuss current events and grapple with complex issues like human sexuality, farming/agricultural metaphors in the Bible and the Book of Job.
Matson, who is no stranger to the campus as a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary, is responsible for spending most of his time at Princeton UMC where he is discipleship pastor. In addition to leading the Tuesday evening session, Matson encourages members to worship on Sundays at either Princeton UMC or Kingston UMC.
Cultivating Hope in the Face of Adversity
Both churches began in mid-March offering services online via Facebook Live and collecting donations via their websites. For more information for Princeton UMC, visit princetonumc.org/this-weeks-worship/ and www.facebook.com/princetonumc. For Kingston, visit kingstonmethodist.org/ and youtube.com/kingstonumc.
This spring the Wesley Foundation launched “Community Groups,” a smaller, more intimate group who meet weekly over a meal, asking questions like how is your soul?
“We’re trying to create a space for sharing and being vulnerable and to care for each other,” said Allen who added that this group will resume in person when the health crisis improves.
“We’ve become known as a place where everyone is welcome,” Allen added. “It’s a place where people can share their anxieties and struggles and then forge deeper relationships.”
Allen is clearly not the only one who was relishing every Tuesday night. Kara Steele ’21 said, “As a freshman I was overwhelmed by the number of Christian groups on campus and struggled to find a group that I vibed with. I am thankful for a teammate who brought me along one Sunday where I met Skitch and got involved with the Wesley Foundation Bible study. This Bible study has provided me with an open and loving community, and I have been grateful for the opportunity to discuss big questions, grapple with difficult topics, as well as grow in my faith with this group.”
In addition to their weekly meetings and Sunday service, they also host fun activities like study breaks, game nights, movie nights and trips to get ice cream and also get involved in service projects on campus like Cornerstone Community Kitchen (www.princetoncornerstone.org/) and The Farminary (www.ptsem.edu/discover/farminary/overview).
For more information, visit www.cultivateprinceton.com/.